Wildlife Conservation in India: Legal Aspect


Wildlife referred to those categories of animal which cannot be domesticated. They include all the species who are born or live in a wild environment. In India, an attempt to save wildlife by enacting the Indian Forest Act, 1927, was made long ago. It provided restrictions on the hunting in protected and reserved forests. Before that too, the British had enacted the Wild Birds Protection Act, 1887 to protect wild birds.

Many people have the feeling that India lacks good laws on wildlife conservation. On the other hand, we have some of the strictest wildlife and habitat protection laws and regulations. It is vitally important that all conservation groups become acquainted with these laws, so that they can make an effective contribution. It is also essential to understand which organizations control estate in India before attempting any conservation interventions in any countryside. The land’s legal status must first be established so that one can actively participate with the appropriate authorities or agencies.

Requirement of legislation

The precipitous decline in Indian wildlife and birds has been a serious concern. Some wild animals and birds in the country have already become extinct and others are in danger of being so. Areas that once ended with wildlife have become devoid of it and the protection afforded to wildlife even in sanctuaries and national parks needs to be improved. The 1912 Wild Birds and Animal Protection Act had gone completely out of date. Not only were the existing state laws outdated but they also provided punishments that were not comparable with the offence.

In response to the increasing destruction of wildlife and forests, the Indian Government has introduced various types of legislation. Such are:

The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972

The 1972 Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA) is an essential statute which provides a strong legislative framework for:

  • Hunting forbidden
  • Wildlife habitats are protected and maintained
  • Establishing protected areas
  • Regulatory oversight and control of the trade in wildlife-derived parts and products
  • Zoo Management.

The WLPA provides for several protected areas / reserves categories:

  • National Parks
  • Wildlife conservations
  • Reserves for Tigers
  • Conservation reserves
  • Reserves in the Community

By making law national parks and tiger reserves are more strictly secluded, allowing practically no human behavior except that which is in the interest of conserving wildlife. Grazing and private tenurial rights are denied in National Parks, but may be permitted at the discretion of the Chief Wildlife Warden in sanctuaries. The updated WLPA does not permit any exploitation of forest resources in both national parks and sanctuaries for wildlife, and community groups can only collect forest products for their bona fide needs.

No wild mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, insects, or coelenterates listed in the four WLPA schedules can be hunted in or out of protected areas. The hunting penalty is imprisonment on conviction for a time span from a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 7 years, with penalties not less than 10,000 rupees.

The law forbids the destruction or disturbance by any means of wildlife and its habitat unless it is for enhancement or better conservation and this is determined by the state government in consultation with the National and State Wildlife Boards.

The WLPA includes extensive procedures to deal with legal rights in envisaged protected areas, and the procurement of any land or interest under this law is considered to be a public purpose acquisition. However, complying with various tenurial and community rights provisions must be ensured with the enactment of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers ( Recognition of Forestry Rights) Act, 2006.

Other key parts of the WLPA, apart from the establishment of a protected area, include procedures for appointing state wildlife authorities and wildlife boards, regulating trade in wildlife products and preventing, detecting and punishing WLPA violations.

The amendment done in 2006 aided for the establishment of the National Tiger Conservation Authority and announcement of Tiger Reserves and introduced as a new chapter IV- B (before this amendment, Tiger Reserves were not defined under the law but were merely administrative designations to permit funding under Project Tiger).

The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) was created to monitor and regulate the illegal trafficking in wildlife products vacuum from the 2006 amendment. The WLPA allows for investigation and prosecution of crimes by registered Forest Service officials and police officers in a court of law.

Section 9 of the Act prohibits the hunting, except as provided for in Sections XI and XII, of wild animals and birds specified in Schedules I, II and III and IV. This classification was made with the importance and population of the wildlife in mind. Those under great threat find a position in Schedule I.

Section 51 of the Act provides for a maximum imprisonment of 6 years, Rs 25,000 fine or both for scavenging animals and birds clarified in Schedule I, as regards penalties for offenses.

The Biological Diversity Act (2002)

India is signatory to the UN Biological Diversity Convention. Besides and not in derogation from the provisions in any other law relating to forests or wildlife, the provisions of the Biological Diversity Act apply.

The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016)

It replaces the earlier plan adopted in 1983 and was introduced in response to the need to change priorities due to increased commercial use of land and resources, steady growth of human and animal populations, and changes in the composition of intake.

The strategy most accurately resembles an actual wildlife protection policy. It aims to strengthen and improve the network of protected areas, on preserving threatened wildlife and its habitats, on controlling trade in wildlife products and on research , education and training.

Two new types of protected areas are introduced: Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves. Conservation Reserves refers to corridors linking protected areas whereas Community Reserves will allow local communities to participate more in the management of protected areas through traditional or cultural conservation. Those new categories of protected areas are likely to undergo protection in corridor areas. The Plan includes various recommendations to address the needs of local communities living outside protected areas and outlines the need to voluntarily relocate and rehabilitate villages within protected areas. The key objective is the restoration of degraded habitats outside of protected areas. The approach recognizes the need to reduce the computational time between humans and wildlife, and emphasizes the establishment of effective mechanisms for compensation. As a primary priority it involves restoring degraded ecosystems outside of protected areas.

Judicial Acts:

The judiciary had been called upon to make a decision important on wildlife protection significant problems. Let us look at the judicial reaction from the following cases:

R. Simon vs. Union of India[1]

In this case the petitioner who was the manufacturer of coats, caps, gloves, blankets and snakeskin items like bags, shoes and brief cases challenged the 1991 Amendment which prohibited trade in animal articles. It was contended that the said Act is colourable legislation as it indirectly takes away fundamental right to carry on any trade or business under Article 19(1)(g), which cannot be done directly. Further certain wild animals are harmful and serve no useful purpose. While rejecting the contentions the Delhi High Court held that every animal is important in maintaining ecological balance and it is the duty of every Indian citizen to protect and improve the wildlife in the country. Further, no fundamental right is absolute and the same can be restricted in public interest. Wildlife protection is very much in public interest. Hence the 1991 Amendment is constitutional. Similar decision has been given in Ivory Traders and Manufacturers Association vs. Union of India[2].

Indian Handicrafts Emporium vs. Union of India[3]

In this case the petitioner had challenged the constitutional validity of the 1991 Amendment, which prohibited trade in imported ivory. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of this amendment under Article 19(6). The Court observed that a trade, which is dangerous to ecology, may be regulated or totally prohibited. Balancing the social interest and the fundamental rights, a total prohibition is reasonable.

Babran Kumawat vs. Union of India[4]

In this case the petitioner was the manufacturer of Mammoth ivory. Mammoth animals had already disappeared in Alaska and Siberia due to climatic conditions. The question was can it be considered as an imported ivory under the 1991 Amendment Act. The Supreme Court held that the 1991 Amendment prohibits trade of ivory of every description. It may be an elephant ivory or mammoth ivory. Hence, the petitioner cannot carry on the trade in mammoth ivory.

Pradeep Krishen vs. Union of India[5]

In this case the petitioner challenged the order of M.P. government by which permission was given to the villagers living near the sanctuaries and national parks to collect tendu leaves through contractors. In the state of M.P. 11 areas have been declared as sanctuaries and national parks covering around 12.4% of total forest cover in M.P. The petitioner contended that a number of trees in these areas have been destroyed due to the entry of villagers. The Supreme Court directed the Madhya Pradesh government to take urgent steps to prohibit entry of villagers and tribals in national parks and sanctuaries.

Tarun Bharat Sangh, Alwar vs. Union of India[6]

In this case the petitioner Organization challenged the grant of 215 mining licenses in the area declared as Tiger Reserve in Alwar district of Rajasthan. The Supreme Court cancelled all the licenses as they were given in the tiger reserve area. Conclusion: The legislature and judiciary in our country are both aware of the significance of wildlife. With constantly shrinking forest cover, the survival of wildlife has been jeopardized. Still we have to do our best to protect the wild life. The recent conviction of Salman Khan by a Jodhpur Court for killing a black bug has sent a clear signal about the commitment of lower judiciary also for protection of wildlife in our country and it has also proved that in our country nobody is above the law.


Wildlife protection alone isn’t only possible through laws and government. Even after all these rules & regulations and efforts, wildlife destruction, illicit trade and poaching continue. There is also a very great need for active cooperation from the common public. It is now high time we understood the gravity of the situation and acted on their behalf. And this can only be done through the government’s recognition and more stringent rules. In our urbanization and modernization rat race, we must not lose the priceless artifacts of our nation.


  1. What is wildlife?
  2. Why do we have the requirement of legislation for wildlife conservation?
  3. Is there any act which is passed by the govt. for the safeguard of the wildlife?
  4. What is the scope and aim of the Wildlife Protection Act?
  5. Is there any punishment for the offenders?

[1] AIR 1997 Del.301

[2] AIR 1997 Del. 267

[3] AIR 2003 SC 3240

[4] AIR 2003 SC 3268

[5] AIR 1996 SC 2040.

[6] 1993 supp. (3) SCC 115.

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